Andrew Theriot, as a teenager, was on his way to a lifetime of trouble when he was arrested two years ago for illegal possession of prescription narcotics, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. He was facing hard jail time when his lawyer suggested an alternative–drug court. “I had been using drugs since I was 14 and almost had no family life,” Theriot said this week. At 19, he jumped at the chance to enter a program designed to steer nonviolent drug offenders away from jail – the lifeline of Cobb County’s drug treatment court. Today, after two years in the strict program, Theriot is being recognized as one of the first two graduates.
Cobb’s drug court, one of 23 in Georgia, isn’t just focused on treatment, said administrator Kristie Garrett. Its primary aim is to reduce the long-term public costs of illegal drug use and the crime it spawns. “Many of these people don’t have any life skills except drug use,” said Garrett, a licensed addiction counselor. “This isn’t a ‘hug-a-thug’ approach,” she said. Be 15 minutes late for a drug screening and you can go to jail. Forgetting a job appointment also can draw jail time. Repeated failures get you tossed out of the program, no appeals or delays. Cobb Superior Court Judge George Kreeger, who oversees the court, said the model has proved successful in Florida and New York, but isn’t for everyone. “They’ve got to be willing to follow a very strict regimen,” said Kreeger. “At first most can’t stay clean, show up on time and keep a job or be in school.” The screening of applicants is rigorous. So far, 52 people have been rejected and 17 have washed out.